Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement.

the ministry of timeWhen an unnamed civil servant applies for an internal position at a mysterious new government department, she finds out that somehow they’ve got their hands on a time travel device. Careful not to disrupt their timeline, they pluck individuals out from history, moments before their documented deaths.

The narrator is assigned to be the bridge for Commander Graham Gore, who would have perished on the Erebus in 1847. If you don’t know much about the fated Arctic expedition, there are flashback chapters which will fill you in. A big part of the book is exploring the old “what would someone from the past think of the world we live in today?” scenario. The blurb states that the story is set in the near future, but it felt contemporary to me.

Gore is shocked by many things at first, including the impropriety of him living with an unmarried woman, but he is quicker than some of the others to accept his new reality. He hates television, but loves being able to conjure up any music at any time via the miracle of the internet. Of course he smokes, forever with a cigarette in his hand.

Everyone he meets is charmed by him. Even the narrator, who is British Cambodian and suddenly living with a man from a colonial era; someone who would have supported the empire and all it stood for. She muses over her identity and family, and this is interwoven with Gore’s past involvement with slaves and the death of an Inuit. He had a bit of an obsession with the Inuit which bled through to his interest in his bridge, in a slightly creepy manner if you ask me. The narrator isn’t bothered but any of this though. Like I said, he’s a charming man. It tries very hard to let Gore off; he’s just a man out of time, one that does his best to learn.

He was an anachronism, a puzzle, a piss-take, a problem, but he was, above all things, a charming man. In every century, they make themselves at home.

I liked the parts with the other ex-pats. For some of them, the adjustment to the present day doesn’t stick. Margaret is from 1665 and quite eccentric. She has an odd way of speaking which I’m not sure is historically accurate, but she’s a fun character, who is overjoyed to learn of women’s liberation. Arthur is from 1916, so has less of an adjustment to make, but still a huge leap in technology and attitudes. And someone has to tell him about the horrors of WWII. Cardingham is there as a balance to the others, he holds onto many of his 1645 attitudes.

Control’s lectures were nakedly about getting the narrative right. In their much-edited correctness, their placid-voice hectoring, they bankrupted the energy in the room. Ideas are frictional, factional entities which wilt when pinned to flowcharts. Ideas have to cause problems before they cause solutions.

It’s more of an introspective story than an action-packed thriller. There’s a bit of a mystery about the existence of the time door and nefarious individuals up to no good. There are some scenes of danger, but the bridge spends a lot of time filing reports and going to meetings. She is very much a civil servant doing her job. It’s just that her job involves hanging out with a man from the past.

The Ministry of Time is published by Sceptre and is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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